What’s one of the most sought-after, in-demand breeds of chicken in the world? A jet-black breed called Ayam Cemani.
Native to Java, Indonesia, this chicken is inky-black all over — not just its feathers, but also its beak, eyes, feet, bones and internal organs. With even black tissue beneath its feathers, the Ayam Cemani gives a whole new meaning to the term “dark meat.”
The word “cemani” is Sanskrit for “jet black,” and it’s no wonder that these birds also go by the nickname “goth chickens.”
A label like that might imply that Ayam Cemani chickens are frightening. But the following YouTube video of adorable black goth chicks from New Jersey poultry breeder Sage Acres Farm tells a different story. Look how cute they are:
How Do These All-Black Chickens Get Their Color?
Leif Andersson, a geneticist at Uppsala University in Sweden, told National Geographic that the black color is the result of a genetic mutation called fibromelanosis, which can be traced back to a single bird from hundreds or even thousands of years ago.
“The mutation underlying fibromelanosis is very peculiar, so we are sure that it occurred once,” Andersson told the publication.
In regular chickens, only certain cells express the gene that controls skin color (endolin 3). In these hyperpigmented chickens, though, almost all the cells express the gene. So, these chickens have 10 times more melanin than most other chicken breeds, though it should be noted that their blood is red. And they do lay cream-colored eggs.
They Remain Rare and Expensive
Though Ayam Cemani chickens started being imported to Europe in the late 1990s, this type of chicken is still extremely rare. And they are especially hard to find in the U.S. due to a ban on direct imports from Indonesia over concerns about avian flu. On the Indonesian end, export restrictions exist as well.
While Ayam Cemani chickens are available here, it can be tough to locate genetically pure specimens because fibromelanistic testing isn’t widely understood, according to the poultry breeders of Sage Acres Farm, whose line originally came from Canada.
That said, a number of exotic poultry farms are doing their best to cultivate more of these chickens in the U.S.
According to its website, Florida-based poultry breeder Greenfire Farms located and legally imported the first pure specimens of this breed in 2014. You can buy an “Ayam Cemani Day-Old Chick Unsexed” for $69 on the site.
However, when supplies were even more limited due to the chicken breed’s novelty, media outlets were reporting costs of $2,500 for one chicken and at least $5,000 for a young breeding pair. Today, you will still pay $2,000-$9,000 and up for an Ayam Cemani bred to standard.
Breeding is complicated, though; you can’t just put two goth chickens together and get a pure black baby. You actually need to understand how the fibromelanistic genes are expressed. Because the color expression is controlled through gene duplication, you must make sure the chickens have two copies of the correct gene, not just one — and that’s not something you can see. To start a flock, you may need to shell out more than $15,000.
These Chickens Are Considered Magical in Indonesia
Poultry farmers in Indonesia tend to have a slightly different take on this chicken breed. They believe the avians have a mystical significance and supernatural powers.
“Hardly anyone eats them,” a farmer named Firdaus told The World. “Most people are interested only in their magical blood.”
According to Business Insider, some Indonesians believe that the chickens’ coloring permits them to move between the human world and the supernatural one. There’s also a belief that their eggs can play a part in fertility.
In fact, breeders will give the first egg away for free to couples in need.
A healer named Fathiyatun Nisa explained to the outlet that the first eggs laid by an Ayam Cemani (called tembeans) are the most valuable — because ingesting them will help you conceive a child. Nisa described a process of roasting the egg into a fine powder and mashing it up with honey. Both couples must eat it for the fertility powers to work.
In this video from Adler Farms in Oklahoma, you can see some of these chickens hatching from the surprisingly normal-looking eggs.
These birds are said to be friendly, docile and hardy, with low maintenance requirements — but they only lay an egg a week, and may also stop laying for months at a time. Ready for some of your own?